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BOSTON (CBS) – You didn’t think this was going to be easy, did you?
In the 45 hours that followed Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, much of the talk around the city was the the Bruins were well on their way to their second Stanley Cup, as if the Chicago Blackhawks were going to lie down and hand it to them.
It didn’t take long for the Blackhawks to squash any and all talk of this being an easy or short series.
The Blackhawks scored just 6:48 into the game and never trailed for the full 69:51 of Game 4, eventually skating away with a 6-5 victory and a 2-2 series tie. Though the Bruins showed championship character by clawing back to tie the game on three separate occasions, they were sunk by uncharacteristic mistakes and sloppy defense. Against a team as potent and talented as Chicago, that type of lapse is almost always going to cost a team a chance at winning.
“I don’t think we played our best game tonight,” head coach Claude Julien said. “A lot of different reasons — I think our decision-making wasn’t very good at times. I didn’t think we were moving the puck as well as we had been in the past. It was certainly a tough outing for us tonight.”
The errors began in the first period, with the Bruins on a gift of a power play thanks to a weak penalty call on Johnny Oduya for interference. But it was Tyler Seguin who did the gift-wrapping, failing to be strong on the puck, turning it over and giving the Blackhawks a 2-0n-1 shorthanded opportunity. Brandon Saad passed to Michal Handzus, who fought through a trip to ring a shot off the post and in to give the Blackhawks an early lead.
Chicago’s second goal came after Zdeno Chara got dumped to the ice by old foe Bryan Bickell, interfering with goaltender Tuukka Rask as a shot came toward net from the point. Jonathan Toews tipped it in for his first goal since May 25 and just his second goal in the entire postseason.
In the second period, only 49 seconds after Milan Lucic cut the Chicago lead to 3-2, Dennis Seidenberg — the man who wore the Bruins’ Army Rangers jacket after Game 3 — made an ill-advised pinch in the offensive end, leading to another 2-0n-1 rush for the Blackhawks. Chara tried in vain to drop to the ice to block Michael Frolik’s pass to Marcus Kruger, who was initially stopped by Rask but was able to score on his own rebound.
“I just think we weren’t very smart in our decision-making,” Julien said about the second period, when the Blackhawks scored three goals (they had scored five in the 13 periods prior to Game 4). “Our D’s were pinching, our forwards were not really covering up, weren’t totally committed to that part of the game. … There was a lot of our game tonight that was just average, and average isn’t good enough at this stage of the season.”
The Bruins battled back to tie the game early in the third period, but the mistakes kept creeping back into their game.
With Duncan Keith and Jaromir Jagr both in the penalty box for high-sticking penalties committed 22 seconds apart, Milan Lucic simply handed the puck in the Boston end right over to Patrick Kane, who led the Blackhawks in goals this season and had an open lane to walk right in on Rask. David Krejci had to take a hooking call to prevent a high-quality scoring chance, and the Blackhawks scored on the ensuing power play, just seconds after their 5-on-3 advantage turned into a 5-on-4.
Again, the Bruins tied the game and followed it up with a relentless attack in the final minutes of regulation. Chris Kelly hit the post on his redirect of a Rich Peverley pass in the crease, a golden opportunity missed before the game headed to overtime.
And though the overtime period was a pretty even showing, it was another mistake that led to the game-winning opportunity. Toews lofted the puck into the offensive zone directly at Seidenberg. The defenseman tried to lean over and corral the puck, but he let it slip through his legs. Kane fired a shot on net, the rebound bounced out to Bickell, who sent his own shot toward net. Patrice Bergeron blocked the shot, but the puck bounced out to Brent Seabrook. The D-man teed up a slap shot through traffic that beat Rask, looking human for the first time all series, to win the game and tie the series.
“I tried to block it and it went through my legs somehow,” Seidenberg said of Toews’ dump-in. “Nothing happened [immediately] after that. I could’ve maybe cleared it, and then the goal wouldn’t have happened. But would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.”
At the end of the night, all the Bruins were left with were those would’ves, could’ves and should’ves.
The Bruins did fight back with goals of their own, exploiting a very obvious weakness on Corey Crawford’s glove side. However, rather than focusing on building a lead and fending off the Blackhawks, all of their energy was spent playing catch-up. It might prove successful against a lesser team like, say, Toronto, but it’s just not going to work against a team this good.
It was awfully poor timing to play their worst game in more than a month. One more night with a similar letdown, and the Bruins will be facing elimination.